GIS Uses in Pipeline

A look at Oil and Gas Industry

Ally Fumo
4 min readDec 1, 2020

Pipelines are the safest and most economical method to transport petroleum and natural gas. According to NTSB, in the US alone, over 200,000 miles of pipeline transport over 700 million gallons of petroleum products each day.

Geographic Information System(GIS) plays many roles in construction and maintenance of pipelines for the oil and gas industry.

After a prospect area has been analyzed and determined to be suitable as a source, Commercial departments of pipeline companies would use simple GIS viewers to get a general picture of possible routes the new pipeline can take. These viewers have measurement capabilities to get an estimate of how much pipe would be needed. They can also show other assets in the area, if available.


Pipeline construction is expensive. To minimize associated cost, a proposed route is put together using GIS Spatial Analyst to conduct least cost analysis. This is the safest and most economical way to transport product from source to its destination.

The proposed route has to take into consideration a number of things including:

  • Obstacles: What obvious obstacles will the proposed route cross? These include roads, railway tracks, rivers and other pipelines in the areas. By overlaying the proposed route over layers of possible obstacles in GIS, it allows pipeline owners to start necessary processes in obtaining all necessary permits and right materials needed for crossing these obstacles.
  • Land Ownership- Pipeline owners need to obtain easement from all landowners where the proposed pipeline will cross before construction can begin. Easement gives the holder rights to build and maintain pipelines on landowner’s property. Overlaying the proposed route on the land ownership layer, gives pipeline owners a picture of all landowners they need to deal with.
  • Environmental Impact- Despite being the safest method to transport petroleum products, pipelines still pose risks that can have significant negative impact on the environment. These risks include air pollution and injuries/deaths to humans and animals as a result of accidental leak or explosion of a natural gas pipeline, contamination of drinking water supplies caused by oil spillage.
  • GIS can overlay the proposed route on other layers (vegetation, geology/water bodies) to show all environmentally sensitive areas. It can even simulate a spillage scenario based on pipeline size and the product to be transported.
  • High Consequence Areas- These are locations defined in pipeline safety regulations as areas where pipeline release could have greater consequences to health and safety or the environment. They usually run through areas with high population density and they extend about 660 feet on either side of a segment of a pipeline. Pipelines within these areas are required to have extra safety features.
  • GIS uses the centerline of the proposed route with other layers (e.g building) to identify all HCA along the route.


  • Environmental Monitoring — Abandoned wells, oil spills and ground subsidence are leading environmental concerns in the areas associated with oil drilling. By using aerial imagery and Digital Elevation Models (DEM), GIS is used to accurately monitor environmental changes in these areas over time.
  • Disaster Management/Response- As part of compliance to National Preparedness for Response Exercise (PREP) for prevention, prepare and response to oil spills, pipeline operators have to submit a Facility Response Plan. Some GIS extensions, like OILMAPLand, can use the pipeline’s own data to simulate an oil spill.


  • Thematic-Depending on the need, these maps could simply show a route from one point to another, they could show a pipeline with all the environmentally sensitive areas or it could be a map showing high consequence areas along its route.
  • Compliance — All pipeline operators are required to regularly submit maps of their pipelines to state and federal authorities as part of regulatory compliance. These maps need to show what pipeline are still in service, pipelines that are abandoned but still in the ground and any pipelines that have been acquired or sold by the operator since the last submission.

Asset Management

  • Asset — Pipeline systems are made up of pipes, wells, pump stations, tank terminals and processing plants. GIS systems for pipelines include data for all these assets that show their exact location. This data can also be used to monitor the health of these assets through their maintenance history.
  • In Line Inspection (ILI) — Pipeline operators routinely run scrubbing and scraping tools through their piping systems to ensure their integrity and comply with state/federal regulatory agencies. These tools (Smart Pigs), also have the ability to measure and record irregularities in the pipe that may represent corrosion, cracks or dents.
  • Smart Pigs reading can be uploaded into GIS to show locations where immediate repair is needed, areas that need further investigations and areas where no action is needed. Paired with HCA information, ILI results can assist in coordinating with field personnel in prioritizing maintenance schedule.


After the pandemic recovery, demand for natural gas and other petroleum products is expected to have a steady growth. This makes GIS a vital player in the industry for years to come.



Ally Fumo

Former GIS Analyst in Oil and Gas industry turned Copywriter.